Friday, December 31, 2010

The end of a year...

A good cup of coffee in hand and an early start to the morning has me bursting with the need to share a bit about 2010.
What a year...
This time last year, I was in Delaware, spending time with the man I was dating and his wonderful family. On our way home, January 1st, I told Rick about what this past decade has been like for me and how I was curious and a bit nervous about what lied ahead. A year later, and I am glad I didn't know what was waiting for me shortly after. This past year has been one of extreme heartache and I would be lying if I wasn't grateful 2010 was on its way out in a few hours. Yet, in the midst of the severity of the pain, I have never felt God's presence more profoundly and I can be thankful for the lessons I have learned. I have been on my knees more times than I can count. There are moments that breathing seems nearly impossible. Yet, there is so much hope. Hope that goes deeper and grows stronger in my heart as each moment passes. God asked me to let go of my control. After many moments of refusing, I finally let go.
It was painful. Excruciating, actually. But I had to. There was nothing else to do.
I will admit that when one lets go that way, it opens the door to some pretty scary places. However, intimacy and beauty fill your steps as you walk, for the One who created you walks with you. The Lord has created me to fight for Him, to grow and flourish in His love, His hope, and His power.
God knew this year was coming. And He faithfully prepared me. At the end of January, I returned from Ethiopia to experience a heartbreaking breakup. I made a lot of mistakes in trying to fix it myself. To deal with the hurt I was feeling, I started a journal to get at the core of what was going on in my heartache... and it drew me to the only answer there was. In the pain, a hand reached for mine. His Holy hand clutched mine. God's strength became my own. He taught me how to turn to Him FIRST, especially when everything seemed hopeless. He put hope back into my life. For several months the Lord mended pieces of my heart back together, preparing me for what came next.
The day I found out Nikki was in a coma, June 19th, I had been worshipping the Lord and spending time in prayer with some of the most wonderful people in my life. My heart was at peace that morning. I believe God prepared that time with friends in order that I wouldn't be alone when I found out Nikki was in trouble. I don't think I will ever forget the events of that day, the way my friends loved me so well, the people that were part of getting me on the airplane, and those that stayed on the phone with me for the next few days. God reached for my hand again. This time would be even more difficult than the last.
He held me closer than I have ever experienced before. Anyone who has lost someone like this knows the feeling. It really is unexplainable. How else can you continue to get through the details of a funeral, hearing that those whom you wanted to be there couldn't make it? We can only handle so much at a time. He lifts us up and holds us together when we are shattered.
As I've written before, saying goodbye to Nikki was the hardest thing I have ever done. We had such a beautiful moment the night before she passed. I sang to her and read to her one of our favorite scriptures. I leaned in and cried. Here was my precious little sister, hurting in ways I couldn't even imagine. As I prayed, she tilted her head towards mine, squinted her eyes, and squeezed my hand. That was the last time we communicated. It was beautiful and I'll never forget it. I had to let her go. I trusted her into the hands of our Father, knowing only He could make the suffering stop.
That next day, I curled up beside her on her hospital bed after they announced the time of death. So much fear ran through my heart. I trembled and have never felt more out of control than at that moment. How in the world was I to get through this? I will share with you what He's been teaching me about His faithfulness- in that moment and what followed. Just like many who have lost loved ones, I began to see the fragility of life...
Friends, our time with each other is so delicate. Why do we spend so much time hurting each other, taking revenge and getting into yelling matches in order to mend our own hearts? Why do we hold on to hurt feelings and choose bitterness? Believe me, I know what it is to be bitter and angry. I wanted it all to end and be with our Heavenly Father. Yet, He said "not yet". He had more to teach me and share with others. There are things that I am constantly having to submit before God to help me heal. I know I can't do it alone. Only He can teach me forgiveness and repentance.
We are called to love one another. He is teaching me to shed off this bitterness in my heart. Learning how to love is one of the most difficult things I have ever learned. He is teaching me to love those that have hurt me the most... the way He loves them. It isn't easy and I have a feeling it will take some time to heal all of the wounds that I've got- but He's promised to breathe life back into the decay.
So, at the close of this year, I can be thankful for His faithfulness. Every part of my life belongs to Him and He has given me the most incredible friends to pray for and support me... and He has helped me support them in their darkest hours. In the darkest of times, we hear His Word. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, "For we walk by faith, not by sight." We are called to walk by faith, especially when there are unanswered questions in our hearts. We are to trust God, even when we do not have the explanations we think and feel we need. God is helping me to choose life instead of despair. He is helping me seek to grow towards healing by helping others. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 13-24 is healing my heart. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."
He is always faithful. I will be starting this new year back in Ethiopia for a few weeks. It is such a privilege to walk with others in their own stories. What a beautiful gift the Lord has given! He shows me how to reach out my own scar-filled hand and help another's. Just as my friends have held my hand through these last 12 months, He helps me to share that love with others that need it.
I leave you with a song that has been close to my heart:

Pain is a forest we all get lost in
Between the branches hope can be so hard to see
And in the darkness we've all got questions
We're all just trying to make sense out of suffering but

You say I am blessed because of this
So, I choose to believe
As I carry this cross, You'll carry me
Help me believe it

Fear is a current we all get caught in
And in its motion faith can be so hard to find
And we all falter 'cause we're all broken
We're all just trying to turn the shadows into light but

You get glory in the midst of this
And You're walking with me
And you say I am blessed because of this
So, I choose to believe
As I carry this cross, You'll carry me

And I know Your promises are faithful
And God, I've seen Your goodness in my life
And oh, I've found Your mercy is a river
Your love is an ocean wide

You say I am blessed because of this
You get glory in the midst of this
And You're walking with me

And You say I am blessed because of this
So, I choose to believe
As I carry this cross, as I carry this cross
'Cause as I carry this cross, You'll carry me

You'll carry me, God
You'll carry me
And Your love is an ocean wide. - Audrey Assad

Thank you everyone who has walked this road with me thus far. I pray that some of what I've learned this year is helping to give hope in the despair. I am still learning, as I know I will until Christ's return, and I can look towards 2011 as a time to embrace the promises of healing. May the Lord bless you as you all enter a new year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rewriting This Tragedy: Last day on the home front...

Rewriting This Tragedy: Last day on the home front...: "It has been over a month since my last post and here I am, sitting on my sister's bed with Nikki's dog, Gracie and our dog, Tex. It actually..."

Last day on the home front...

It has been over a month since my last post and here I am, sitting on my sister's bed with Nikki's dog, Gracie and our dog, Tex. It actually snowed (well... to all of you who are used to snow, technically flurries) in Jacksonville, FL yesterday. So bizarre! I've spent the last 2 weeks here, sitting by the ocean, meeting up with friends, and grieving with my family. For my last day, I plan on taking Miss Gracie to the beach and let her play in the water while I take in what's happened over the past few weeks. This year's Christmas was difficult to deal with. There were a lot of tears (for sure) but I was amazed and humbled to see so many friends reaching out to me and my family. As Sara Groves has said, "It's been a hard year but I'm climbing out of the rubble." 2010 was an extremely frustrating and challenging year but I will say that through the tougher times, I have never felt so cared for and loved by the people around me and ultimately, from my Savior, Jesus Christ, who took my pain on Himself and drastically changed my heart. He is the true Hero in this story. He is the only One that can rewrite my tragedy. AND HE IS.
Thank you for reading. Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever really has the time to look at the thoughts I put down online. It is such an encouragement to me to know that my grief may help any of you each day.
Many blessings as we remember the real reason for this season.
T-minus 10 days until I head out to Ethiopia!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ultimate Calling

"Calling is the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service. Calling is the most comprehensive reorientation and the most profound motivation in human experience-the ultimate why for living in all history. Calling begins and ends such ages, and lives of faith by pacing the final aim of life beyond the world where it was meant to be. Answering the call is the way to find and fulfill the central purpose of your life..." (Os Guiness' The Call, p. 4, 6-7)
I've been thinking a lot lately about calling and what my life will look like after Nikki's death. My sister made me look at my relationship with the Creator, made me take a deeper glance at the most important part of my life, and is pushing me forward towards the Father. I'm afraid. I'm nervous at what this life is made up of. Last week was a series of major highs and today was a reminder of the more difficult parts of this walk... through suffering. I am returning to Ethiopia as a medical provider after a really miraculous change of plans, authored by the Lord. After a lot of thought, I'm going to let Him lead... and right now, that looks like long term missionary service overseas. I'm waiting for further confirmation but I recognize time plays a major role in all of this. At the moment, God is employing one of His greatest teachers- time- in order to enlarge my heart and expand my vision. This is the hard work of Isaiah 26:3, the submissive discipline of keeping my mind "stayed" on the Lord, trusting Him in ways I cannot see or understand, in places where I must learn to be content with mystery. All I want is for Christ to receive the glory, whatever that looks like. I praise Him in this storm... today is 5 months since her death... and I weep and call out to Him, for He delivers me into His precious and glorious light. I was called to praise my Maker, to share it with those that desire to listen, and step closer to Him as I encounter this pain. Thanks for reading...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Tapestries of Our Lives

I have recently read a book by Paula Rinehart titled "Strong Women, Soft Hearts." This book really helped me identify what was happening in my heart and encouraged me to stay open, to stay vulnerable...
She writes, "You know you're an adult when you start to realize that some sorrows in life will never go away. You learn to carry them with you in ways that enrich rather than debilitate your life, in ways that make you wise. But the dark and knubbly places in the fabric, the tapestry of your life, remain. It matters where you go from here. It matters to you and to everyone you love. It matters to God. For the secret you stumble on is that if, once hurt, you open your heart and let God take you by the hand, he will lead you to a better place than you have known. Not necessarily easier, but a place of freedom and even joy. Pain is a special province of the heart. And in the providence of a merciful God, he is able to convert it to something golden. Something good. There are inevitable losses in life. But there is one thing you do not have to lose- your heart. Some tragedies, [like the death of Nikki], cannot be prevented. but the tragedy of losing heart can."
Friends, I urge you to keep your hearts open, letting the Lord do the work that He needs in order to bring restoration to your life. We live in a world that is terribly broken, yet there is light. When God seems silent and distant, we take comfort that He is near us. "The scandal of God's silence in the most heartbreaking hours of our journey is perceived in retrospect as veiled tender Presence and a passage into pure trust that is not at the mercy of the response it receives."- Brennan Manning
Since Nikki's death, I'm feeling the desire to serve back in Africa. After Ethiopia and Egypt, I am even more drawn to that continent. I will be graduating in May and then... who knows. Please keep me in your prayers as I look into a few possibilities- in the near future as well as long term.
Lord, I pray for these fellow readers tonight, that whatever is going on in their lives, they listen to Your voice, resisting the temptation to close off their hearts out of fear. Thank you for being near to us when hope sometimes seems lost. We rejoice in our coming Savior. Heal our wounded hearts and bring us closer to You. Amen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Give Him time...

I have been so encouraged by Amy Carmichael's wisdom throughout these last few years. She writes, "We say, then, to anyone who is under trial, give Him time to steep the soul in His eternal Truth. Go into the open air, look up into the depths of the sky, or out upon the wideness of the sea, or on the strength of the hills that is His also; or, if bound in the body, go forth in the spirit; spirit is not bound. Give him time and, as surely as dawn follows night, there will break upon the heart a sense of certainty that cannot be shaken." Reading many of your stories these past few days have brought me to tears on multiple occasions. Thanks so much for sharing your hearts with me, what an incredible honor! We take comfort in a God that knows our stories so intimately. He challenges us with a gentleness that only the Spirit of God can provide. He can tear us from Satan's grasp with such force and with such incredible passion- praise God that He has conquered death with His life! Jesus is taking our hands and teaching us His incredible love through our suffering. I do not doubt it! From the garden to the empty tomb, He is forever changing our hearts- he has rewritten death!
"Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long." -Psalm 25:5

Monday, November 1, 2010

I began this blog in an attempt to engage my heart with the suffering that the Lord has brought me through these past few months. My beloved sister, Nikki went to be with our Lord on June 21, 2010. Since then, I have been learning about grief and how my life is changing because of it. The loss of my sister has altered the course of my life, forever changing the dreams I had before the accident. It happened. She died when I thought life was just getting started. Death interrupted and changed everything. Yet, somehow, there is light- and it is shining in the depths of the darkness. Somehow, Christ has taken my hand, letting me curl up on His lap, and is whispering to me how He will never leave me. Never. He gives me the power to grow up- to continue sharing about His love with other sinners. He is dearly loving me and it is amazing.
I do not believe I lost my sister in order that I might change for the better. I still want her back. I still want to laugh and cry with her like before. I do believe, however, that Christ is taking this part of my story to show me what grace is all about and it is changing my heart, transforming me into the woman He created me to be. He has taken death and is giving it life.
I have never felt so much pain as I have in the last several months. Never have I been so aware of my weakness and vulnerability; yet never have I felt so secure and protected. My soul is stretching. It is being kneaded and molded into something beautiful. I am becoming aware of the power of God’s grace and my absolute need and dependence upon it. Praise God, for it is giving me the courage to share the gospel with my family with a boldness that I never knew I had in me, and it is allowing me to cry out with tears of joy of the glory that is coming... AND IT IS COMING- with a fire and passion that will forever change everything! God will continue to extend His presence that I feel now into all of eternity. He is growing my soul and filling it with Himself. Jerry Sittser, another fellow believer that has suffered catastrophic loss writes, “Loss can diminish us, but it can also expand us. It depends, once again, on the choices we make and the grace we receive. Loss can function as a catalyst to transform us. It can lead us to God, the only One who has the desire and power to give us life.” Grace is blowing my world wide open- what a gift to have all of you, sweet community of believers banding together in one of my darkest moments.
Thank you to all of you who continue to lift me up in prayer. Thank you for your kindness, your tender hugs, and your willingness to step into this mess with me. It is going to be a long road ahead, but I am less afraid knowing you are all on this road with me, letting Christ be our guide. I pray that God uses my story to help shape His work in your stories. Praise God, for He is alive. Believe it, for He is working! For those of you that are also experiencing deep pain and loss, hold tight to the Lover of your Heart. He is there with you.